Stiffness of the distal loop restricts the structural heterogeneity of the transition state ensemble in SH3 domains.

Journal of molecular biology

PubMedID: 11955020

Klimov DK, Thirumalai D. Stiffness of the distal loop restricts the structural heterogeneity of the transition state ensemble in SH3 domains. J Mol Biol. 2002;317(5):721-37.
Protein engineering experiments and Phi(F)-value analysis of SH3 domains reveal that their transition state ensemble (TSE) is conformationally restricted, i.e. the fluctuations in the transition state (TS) structures are small. In the TS of src SH3 and alpha-spectrin SH3 the distal loop and the associated hairpin are fully structured, while the rest of the protein is relatively disordered. If native structure predominantly determines the folding mechanism, the findings for SH3 folds raise the question: What are the features of the native topology that determine the nature of the TSE? We propose that the presence of stiff loops in the native state that connect local structural elements (such as the distal hairpin in SH3 domains) conformationally restricts TSE. We validate this hypothesis using the simulations of a "control" system (16 residue beta-hairpin forming C-terminal fragment of the GBl protein) and its variants. In these fragments the role of bending rigidity in determining the nature of the TSE can be directly examined without complications arising from interactions with the rest of the protein. The TSE structures in the beta-hairpins are determined computationally using cluster analysis and limited Phi(F)-value analysis. Both techniques prove that the conformational heterogeneity decreases as the bending rigidity of the loop increases. To extend this finding to SH3 domains a measure of bending rigidity based on loop curvature, which utilizes native structures in the Protein Data Bank (PDB), is introduced. Using this measure we show that, with few exceptions, the ordering of stiffness of the distal, n-src, and RT loops in the 29 PDB structures of SH3 domains is conserved. Combining the simulation results for beta-hairpins and the analysis of PDB structures for SH3 domains, we propose that the stiff distal loop restricts the conformational fluctuations in the TSE. We also predict that constraining the distal loop to be preformed in the denatured ensemble should not alter the nature of TSE. On the other hand, if the amino and carboxy terminals are cross-linked to form a circular polypeptide chain, the pathways and TSs are altered. These contrasting scenarios are illustrated using simulations of cross-linked WT beta-hairpin fragments. Computations of bending rigidities for immunoglobulin-like domain proteins reveal no clear separation in the stiffness of their loops. In the beta-sandwich proteins, which have large fractions of non-local native contacts, the nature of the TSE cannot be apparently determined using purely local structural characteristics. Nevertheless, the measure of loop stiffness still provides qualitative predictions of the ordered regions in the TSE of Ig27 and TenFn3.